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Decoding International LawSemiotics and the Humanities$
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Susan Tiefenbrun

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195385779

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385779.001.0001

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A semiotic approach to a legal definition of terrorism

A semiotic approach to a legal definition of terrorism

Decoding International Law

Susan Tiefenbrun

Oxford University Press

This chapter proposes a definition of terrorism based on semiotic principles. It uncovers five basic elements of the crime of terrorism that are deeply embedded in each of the many definitions proposed by the United States in its laws, and by many other nations, scholars, and international organizations such as the United Nations. It shows that under certain circumstances requiring the presence of the basic five elements of the crime, terrorism can be included in other specifically defined international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It also looks comparatively at the U.S., English, French, European, and Canadian definitions of terrorism as well as the U.N.'s attempt to define terrorism in its seventeen multilateral conventions. The chapter examines different definitions proposed by leading scholars in the field of international law and the law of terrorism. Finally, it looks at two different literary and cinematographic representations of terrorism: Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent (1907) and the more recent movie Hotel Rwanda. Applying semiotic analysis to these literary texts teases out their hidden legal issues in order to shed light on the complex problem of terrorism.

Keywords:   terrorism, semiotics, international law, Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Hotel Rwanda

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